By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - Nine former south Texas law officers were sentenced from between nine and 17 years in federal prison for using their badges and police vehicles to move and sell large shipments of drugs, a federal court official said on Wednesday.
The nine, most of whom were from the so-called Panama Unit, made up of law officers from jurisdictions organized to investigate the flow of illegal drugs coming from Mexico, were sentenced this week on drug trafficking and other charges in U.S. District Court in the border city of McAllen.
From 2010 through 2012, the nine lawmen used their positions to steal narcotics and cash from drug traffickers and provided them to other drug dealers who were paying them for protection, prosecutors said.
According to court documents, four of the men loaded two marked police vehicles with 40 kilograms of cocaine and drove the drugs past a Border Patrol checkpoint on the main road between the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio. The men were paid $3,000 to $4,000 the trip.
Occasionally, officers would escort drug shipments and pull off phony traffic stops to steal drugs from known traffickers, prosecutors said.
"The sentencing of law enforcement officials involved in crimes they are sworn to investigate serves as a sobering warning about the consequences of violating the public trust," said Janice Ayala, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for the San Antonio Division, which conducted the investigation.
(Reporting by Jim Forsyth; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Leslie Adler)